While it seems like every race is an occasion for new gear, we’ve put together a gift guide for the adventurous runner who loves big backcountry runs and fastpacking — spending a couple of days running, hiking, and camping out.
The gear you find in this gift guide is aimed at helping you create a kit that is ultralight but also contains all the items needed to stay safe and healthy when deep in the woods and mountains — no matter if you’re headed out all day or all week. Some of these products can be used far beyond the trail running world, so buckle up and show your adventuresome loved ones that you’re thinking of them this year.
To learn more about fastpacking, check out our Definitive Guide to Fastpacking article.
Be sure to check out our other gift guides, too:
In iRunFar’s opinion, the best fastpack for running currently available is the Pa’lante Packs Joey, made by the small company based in Utah, and we gave it that distinction in our Best Fastpacks guide.
With an advertised capacity of 24 liters, an actual weight of 14.5 ounces in its Gridstop fabric option, plenty of external storage pockets to organize your kit, and a running-vest-style harness, we’ve been able to fit up to four days of ultralight fastpacking kit and food and to motor comfortably on runnable and more technical scrambling terrain.
This fastpack comes in just one size, and has two adjustable sternum straps for customizing fit. There’s no waistbelt. We’ve found that for runnable terrain, where you’d like to run at faster than 10-minute-mile pace, keeping the pack weight at 12 pounds or less maximizes comfort. If you sneak above that pack weight and are running decently, you may experience side-to-side shifting of the pack. At trotting paces of about 12 minutes per mile, that side-to-side movement disappears and you can jog with more weight comfortably.
The running harness has four pockets for stowing snacks, a phone, soft flasks, water bottles, and other smaller items. An innovative underneath pocket sits below the pack’s main body, and is big enough to stow 15 hours of running food or a rain jacket and gloves — and you can reach it while running. There are two side pockets on the main body which multiple testers have found accessible on the move, and we use these pockets for stowing extra water, better organizing our running nutrition, and carrying extra layers. Finally, the fastpack has a large back pocket which isn’t reachable while wearing the pack, but is great for stowing a wet tarp, extra clothing, or the pizza you’re carrying in for your first night’s dinner.
Shop the Pa’lante Packs Joey
We love to go ultralight for our fastpacking trips. The lighter your pack, the more comfortably you can run and enjoy the scenery along the way. And when the weather allows, we also enjoy sleeping in the great wide open.
Enter the Sol Escape Bivvy, an affordable, waterproof, lightweight, and breathable bivvy sack perfect for fastpacking. At an advertised weight of 8.5 ounces, it has a half side zipper, taped seams, and a drawstring hood. We’ve found it supplies an extra 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warmth when used with your sleeping bag, which is awesome. We’ve found that all bivvy sacks create condensation and frost, and the Escape Bivvy does not escape this reality; however, the amount of condensation is way less than some bivvy sacks. We also appreciate that it’s durable and has lasted us for years of dreamy nights out.
All this and more is why we’ve named it Best Bivvy in our Best Ultralight Tents and Tarps guide.
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The Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape is a combination one-person tarp and rain poncho that weighs 11 ounces and offers a perfect ultralight shelter for any fastpacking trip. Members of the iRunFar team have used this tarp for over eight years and so we’ve named it one of the Best Tarps in our Best Ultralight Tents and Tarps guide.
Let’s begin with the tarp aspect of this product. We have found that a shaped tarp, one whose sides extend down to within a few inches of the ground — like the Gatewood Cape — can protect us from almost all the bad weather we’ll encounter while fastpacking. Its pyramid-style design requires one trekking pole (you can purchase a pole specifically for use with the cape if you don’t use them to run) and six stakes to set up. It’s super quick and easy even in the wind, and provides more room than one person will need underneath for themselves and their fastpacking gear. If you want bug protection, you can additionally purchase the Six Moon Designs Serenity Ultralight NetTent ($150), which also weighs 11 ounces.
A rain poncho is an acquired taste, but it’s one that’s been embraced by a segment of the ultralight thru-hiking community because it also serves as a pack cover, has flowiness that allows air ventilation, and is easy to don and doff as weather comes and goes. While we have used the Gatewood Cape much more as a tarp for sleeping than as a poncho for running and hiking, we have found that it keeps our pack and selves pretty darn dry.
We’d recommend bringing something that can be used as a belt to secure the cape around your body for when it’s windy. Also, don’t wear this as a poncho off-trail through the bushes or on trails with encroaching vegetation so you don’t catch and puncture it.
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The Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping Bag was awarded Best Hooded Sleeping Bag in our Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags guide, and was the warmest of all the bags that made it into that guide. This warmth can be attributed to 16.8 ounces of 950-plus fill down and a cozy hood which can be closed tight around the face on extra cold nights.
The bag was tested at temperatures between 22 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and our testers believed they could still be happy campers in this bag at temperatures much lower again.
For all this warmth, it’s still very lightweight at 27 ounces, and includes a storage bag and stuff sack for easy packing.
The standard width of the bag worked well for both male and female testers, and as it comes in two lengths, it should be no trouble getting one to fit the fastpacking enthusiast or adventurer in your life.
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The NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad was named Best Foam Sleeping Pad in our Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads guide. It’s a great value option if you are looking for a really useful gift for the fastpacker in your life. Value aside, foam sleeping pads will never deflate or puncture. They are reliable and durable, which to many makes them preferable to more expensive inflatable options. This one is more comfortable than its closest competitors and also packs down smaller. It also matched some of the more expensive picks in our guide for weight, coming in at 14.8 ounces.
Foam sleeping pads are not for everyone, being a good bit firmer than inflatable options. Also, they need to be strapped outside of the pack rather than fitting inside, which is off-putting to some. But if you think a foam sleeping pad would be suitable for the fastpacker in your life, you won’t find much better than this one.
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If you’re counting grams instead of ounces while packing for your next adventure, then the BRS 3000T Stove is for you. Very affordable and extremely light, this 0.9-ounce stove is a good fit for pretty much everyone. It packs down well, is less than two inches long when folded up, and holds large pots surprisingly steadily, provided you place the fuel canister on level ground.
As it doesn’t perform as well in the wind, you’ll want to choose your cooking location well. Also, its fuel efficiency isn’t great compared to other stoves. That said, if you’re looking for an ultralight stove that does great cooking food and coffee for one or two people, then this is the one for you. Take note that you’ll need your own ignition source for this ultralight gem, but you should be carrying one already in your ultralight safety kit.
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Be free of being tied to your kitchen sink and other filtered water sources, says the Katadyn BeFree water filter. This lightweight filter, especially when combined with its 600-milliliter soft flask, is a game-changer for backcountry adventures where tap water sources aren’t readily available, but natural sources are.
The nice thing is, you can buy this filter with or without the attachable bottle, meaning if you already have a soft flask with the same threads, it will work just fine on that. We’ve found that the BeFree water filter and 600-milliliter soft flask fit in the front pockets of many running hydration packs on the market today.
The filter readily cleans water of the nasties (otherwise known as microorganisms) that are just fine living in the wild, but would wreak havoc if introduced to your gut.
With that in mind, the BeFree system offers us adventure runners the best kind of freedom.
To learn more about this great water filter, check out our in-depth Katadyn BeFree review and read our Best Water Purification for Trail Running guide where we named it the best filter for trail runners.
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Leave No Trace principles certainly apply to adventure running and fastpacking. Stay out there long enough, and you’re going to have to deal with your own body’s waste. The Leave No Trace nonprofit organization asks us to bury our poo at least six inches deep, and the TentLab The Deuce #1 Potty Trowel makes that super easy. The trowel has two ends — a sharp, narrow end to cut the ground, and a broader size to dig out the dirt. It weighs just 0.45 ounces and comes in multiple colors should you want to match your digger to your other gear. And, TentLab makes two other larger sizes, all of them under an ounce.
But why bury your business, you might ask? The biggest issues revolve around the prevention of water source pollution, increasing the rate of decomposition, and most of all, it’s just gross to hike or run around somewhere a turd could be lurking.
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Everyone likes tasty treats, and what better way to fuel your next adventure than with the cozy tastes of spiced chai, maple syrup, or dark chocolate? Well, Trail Butter has all those flavors and more in a variety of real food products that will keep you energized without eating a huge meal.
While gels are great for races or intense effort days when snacks with high fat content will likely lead to stomach distress, Trail Butter — essentially almond or cashew butter bases with natural flavors and mix-ins — is perfect for long, low-intensity days on the go. At 200 calories each in the Lil’ Squeeze size, with a good mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, Trail Butter is extremely satiating.
While most people will opt for the single-serving packet, they also come in a Big Squeeze size if you want to share or for the butter to last more than one outing, and it also comes in tubs to make tasty sandwiches when you’re done. With multiple flavors, it’s easy to spice up your good ‘ol PB&J.
The iRunFar team loves Trail Butter so much that we included it in our Best Running Foods guide.
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When it is protein that you crave, your sweet tooth is burnt out, or you’re not in a position to roast a whole bird, the Epic Provisions Chicken Sriracha Bars are a great alternative. Again, this is not really the snack you want during a high-intensity race, but when you’re on a long adventure run or multiday effort and have a hankering for something more substantial, these are excellent. They are made from real chicken and sriracha spice blend — long live Sriracha!
Good for pretty much every special diet except the vegetarians among us, the Epic Provisions bars are approved for Whole 30, paleo, and keto diets, and they are gluten-free. Tasty, salty, spicy, and handy, the Chicken Sriracha flavor is likely to ease even the most severe palate fatigue and it’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up.
These bars are so great that they are a part of iRunFar’s Best Running Foods guide.
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Rated as having the best battery life in our Best GPS Watches for Running guide, the Coros Vertix 2 should have plenty of battery power for your longest run-ventures. Expect the battery to last 140 hours in regular GPS mode, 240 hours in reduced tracking, and 50 hours in dual GNSS mode, the last of which provides the most accurate tracking available in the GPS watch market right now.
This Coros watch is a bit big, there’s no getting around it, and it can sometimes dwarf a smaller wrist. But there is a huge amount of technology packed into the watch, so the tradeoff is worth it.
The Vertix 2 has onboard mapping in multiple formats, can hold music you can connect to via Bluetooth headphones, and has a bright and easy-to-read screen as well as insane durability. This watch feels like you could run it over with a truck and survive, à la the Nokia brick phones of the early 2000s.
If you’re an adventurer who wants a durable watch that has enough battery power for as long as you want to run and great mapping technology, then the Coros Vertix 2 is for you.
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Speaking once again to our ultralight crowd, the Nitecore NU25 Headlamp weighs only 1.8 ounces, even with its 610 milliAmp-hour lithium-ion battery included. The headlamp earned iRunFar’s Best Ultralight Headlamp award in our Best Running Headlamps guide.
It’s on the lighter side of lumen output as well, putting out 190 lumens for five hours, 38 lumens for eight hours, a single lumen for 160 hours, and 360 lumens in 30-second bursts. With two light options — white and red — you can choose the type and intensity of light to fit your needs. There’s a USB port for recharging, and the device locks so it won’t accidentally turn on in your pack.
For a traditional-style headlamp, that is, one with a stretchy band and block in front for the light and battery, it is incredible that it weighs so little. We’ve found that the headlamp is just perfect for an hour or two of trail running to start or end your long fastpacking days and excellent for camp activities, as well. It’s no wonder that the ultralight thru-hiker community has also latched onto this little beauty.
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With this second version at an actual weight of 5.36 ounces, as far as we can tell, the Nitecore NB10000 Gen II Power Bank is the lightest 10,000 milliAmp-hour lithium-ion power bank on the market today. How do they do it? It appears most of Nitecore’s weight saving comes in its cover, which is made of carbon fiber. The whole package is both lighter and slimmer than other 10,000 milliAmp-hour batteries on the market. In our testing, we’ve found the device to be plenty strong, though the carbon fiber cover scuffs up pretty quickly.
So, what kind of backcountry runner needs a 10,000 milliAmp-hour battery? We’ve needed this much battery power for one person fastpacking for four to six nights, or two people for one to three nights. We use the power bank each evening at camp to top off our phones, GPS watches, and headlamps, so our gear is ready to deliver full power and safety at any time.
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The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles was the better value option of the two sets of poles named Best Carbon Fixed-Length Poles in our Best Trail Running Poles guide. A good set of poles can be a godsend on any fastpacking adventure, providing support for tired legs and helping to keep the body upright, especially when weighed down by a heavy pack. In the interest of traveling light, fastpackers love gear items with multiple uses, and these can also be used to prop up a tarp or lightweight tent at night.
These ones are super lightweight, made with 100% carbon fiber shafts with reinforced joints for durability, and they collapse easily into three foldable sections when not in use.
They come in a range of lengths, from 100 to 130 centimeters, in 5-centimeters increments, and there is a handy sizing chart provided by Black Diamond that can help you calculate the correct length, based on the height of your fastpacking friend.
Shop the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles
What does this have to do with trail running? A lot, if you’re like iRunFar’s Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell, who adds a lot of enjoyment to his adventure runs and fastpacking trips in the form of simple Tenkara-style fly fishing.
“Tenkara” is the traditional Japanese style of fly fishing that uses only a rod, a line, and a fly. The Tenkara Hane Complete Set for fly fishing changes very little from the original concept, other than the technological innovations to make your fishing gear smaller, sleeker, and more durable. The 10-foot rod collapses to only 15 inches, small enough to place inside a fastpack, running vest, or even a waistbelt.
Just imagine: You could run along a river trail in the early hours of the morning, fish on and off throughout the day, and run home as the sun is setting and with your fresh catch for dinner. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect day?
For more information on how to combine running and fly fishing, check out iRunFar’s article on fly fishing for trail runners.
Shop the Tenkara Hane Complete Set
Call for Comments
- What is something you’ve received that you’ve brought on a fastpacking adventure that’s made the trip so much better?
- What are some other gifts that adventure runners will appreciate?